The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), located outside Carlsbad, NM. is the nation’s only geologic repository for defense-generated transuranic waste. The Department of Energy (DOE) is accepting comments on its 2019-2024 “Strategic Plan”, which should be focused on closing WIPP. But the Plan focuses on extending WIPP’s lifetime to 2050 and beyond. WIPP’s disposal phase was extended until 2024 (in 2010), and the last expected year of final closure of the WIPP facility (i.e., date of final closure certification) was to be 2034. There was always a 10-year period for final closure after the disposal operations ceased.
But, instead, the WIPP Strategic Plan is stocked full of new projects that will extend WIPP’s life another 25 years at least. Yet, WIPP officials don’t mention how or when they plan to modify the State Permit with the new proposed date. DOE’s own waste-handling inefficiencies and mistakes have caused this delay that the people of New Mexico are now paying for by having WIPP open longer than planned. We are asking everyone to oppose DOE’s “WIPP Forever” plans by sending in comments. See below.
On March 1, 2005, after arduous negotiations and threats of litigation, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Department of Energy (DOE), and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) entered into a Consent Order specifying the schedule for investigation and cleanup of the Lab’s hundreds of contaminated sites. This Consent Order (CO) was LANL’s agreement to fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War legacy wastes, which NMED began to enforce.
· Plutonium pit production increases are planned for Los Alamos.
· There are serious plans for all of the nation’s commercial spent nuclear fuel to head to NM.
· WIPP has a major expansion in the works to allow even more radioactive waste into NM.
Today we ask you to join with others to stop a proposed major Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) expansion. Officials at the WIPP are proceeding with a deluge of permit modifications to try to get as much weakening of the Hazardous Waste Permit as they can before 2019.
Because DOE is so far behind emplacing waste at WIPP, including because of the three-year shutdown from the 2014 radiation release, and they are running out of underground space, they want to change the way waste volume is measured. Since the 1970s, DOE has agreed that the amount of waste is the volume of the outer-most container. Now, DOE wants to estimate the amount of waste inside each container and use that lesser amount.
By April 3, we need You to submit written comments opposing DOE’s request. If possible, you can find out more at a public meeting (which isn’t for public comments):
“Clarification” of TRU Mixed Waste Disposal Volume Reporting
Thursday, March 8, 2018 3 – 5 p.m.
Courtyard by Marriott, 3347 Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico
· Interested people, including NM Environment Department officials, gathered to discuss this issue in one of the smaller conference rooms
· Optional sign-in sheet, and DOE handouts of their presentation
· A presentation of the proposed plan by DOE
· Question and answer period – Make sure you get all your questions answered
· No opportunity for formal public comments
WIPP is now filling Panel 7 (of 10 originally proposed), which is about 70% of the space. But WIPP has only emplaced ~92,700 m3 of waste (about 53% of the 175,564 m3 allowed). DOE has “lost” more than 30,000 m3 of space by its inefficiency and contractor incompetence. Measuring the waste the proposed new way decreases the ‘amount of waste’ emplaced to date by ~26,000 m3.
The proposed modification is controversial and is part of a larger plan to expand WIPP, but is submitted as a Class 2 Permit Modification Request (PMR), which has lesser public input opportunities. The public has opposed WIPP expansion for years and decades. There is significant public concern and interest in the WIPP facility. This PMR should be a Class 3, which includes much more public input, a formal public hearing — a process that could take up to a year.
We will provide sample comments by April 3rd, but your comments are just as important.
The complete Permit Modification Request is here –
Contact: Jay Coghlan, 505.989.7342, c. 505.470.3154, jay[at]nukewatch.org
Watchdogs Assail Revolving Door
Between New Mexico Environment Department and Polluters;
Gov. Martinez Fails to Protect State Budget and Environment
Santa Fe, NM – As the annual state legislative session begins, New Mexico is faced with a ~$70 million budget deficit, which must be balanced as per the state’s constitution, while revenues are projected to continue falling. To remedy this, Gov. Martinez plans to divert $120 million from public school reserves, take ~$12.5 million out of state employee retirement accounts, make teachers and state workers pay more into their retirement accounts (they are already among the lowest paid in the country), and extend 5.5% cuts for most state agencies while cutting yet more from the legislature and higher education. Instead, the state’s budget deficit could have been prevented had the New Mexico Environment Department aggressively fined polluters. But unfortunately there is a strong revolving door between NMED and the polluters it is suppose to regulate.
In her 2012 State of the State speech Gov. Martinez said, “My appointees are barred from lobbying state government for 2 years after serving in my administration.” Yet in August 2016 the Secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), Mr. Ryan Flynn, resigned to become the Executive Director of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, whose main purpose is to lobby on behalf of the oil and gas industry against environmental regulations. Before joining NMED, Mr. Flynn worked for a law firm that advertises that “Our representation of oil and gas producers, mid-stream entities, and natural gas pipelines has been a mainstay of Modrall Sperling’s natural resources practice since the early days of the firm.” Modrall Sperling lawyers were very active in the NM Oil and Gas Association’s opposition to the so-called “pit rule” that sought to prevent oil and gas drilling mud waste from leaching into and contaminating groundwater. In June 2013 the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission, appointed by Gov. Martinez, eviscerated the pit rule.
Similarly, Martinez and Flynn promulgated new groundwater protection rules that for the first time in the country actually allows groundwater contamination if it doesn’t migrate past the footprint of the operating site. This is the so-called Copper Rule, drafted by the copper mining giant Freeport-McMoRan (which is also a Modrell Sperling law firm client).
On January 13, 2017 Kathryn Roberts, the head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division, announced that she was leaving the Environment Department to accept an unnamed job in Alamogordo. Before NMED she worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) for four years as Group Leader for Regulatory Support and Performance (of “cleanup”). Upon information and belief, she will work as a public communications specialist for Longenecker and Associates, a Department of Energy (DOE) contractor that proposes to drill deep boreholes to test the disposal of high-level nuclear waste near Alamogordo.
This is part of the continuing targeting of New Mexico as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Longenecker and Associates have participated in Sandia Labs studies of deep borehole high-level waste disposal. Of interest are some relatively recent new hires by Longenecker, including Don Cook, a longtime Sandia Labs scientist, past manager of the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom, and most recently the Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs (i.e., nuclear weapons) at the National Nuclear Security Administration. As such, he was essentially the head of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, including the Los Alamos and Sandia Labs.
Also new to Longenecker and Associates as Corporate Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer is Christine Gelles, former interim manager of the new DOE Environmental Management field office at Los Alamos. A Longenecker resume´ notes that Gelles “Led planning and initial regulatory interactions with New Mexico Environment Department negotiation of Los Alamos Consent Order.” Ms. Roberts would have been one of Gelles’ counterparts on the other side of the table as head of NMED’s Resource Protection Division.
An original 2005 Consent Order negotiated between NMED and DOE was meant to compel comprehensive cleanup at LANL and force the Energy Department to increase cleanup funding. The new Consent Order, likely negotiated at least in part between Gelles and Roberts, contains giant loopholes whereby DOE can get out of cleanup by simply claiming that is too difficult or too costly. In fact, since the new Consent Order went into effect in June 2016, DOE has announced that the cost of “Remaining Legacy Cleanup” of radioactive and toxic wastes from more than 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production at LANL will cost $2.9 to $3.8 billion through fiscal year 2035, averaging $153 million per year, which is ridiculously low. That cost estimate clearly assumes that the Lab’s major radioactive and toxic wastes dumps will not be cleaned up. Instead they will be “capped and covered,” leaving some 200,000 cubic yards of radioactive and toxic wastes at Area G, its largest waste dump, posing a permanent threat to groundwater. DOE’s cost estimate for future LANL cleanup assumes flat funding out to FY 2035, and notes how that cost is “Aligned to [the] 2016 Consent Order.” This is a distinct and very unfortunate break from the 2005 Consent Order.
Particularly galling is the fact that under Gov. Martinez and ex-Secretary Ryan Flynn the New Mexico Environment Department granted more than 150 milestone extensions to the 2005 Consent Order, and then turned around and said that the Consent Order wasn’t working. From a budget perspective, New Mexico could have collected more than $300 million in stipulated penalties, more than four times the state’s projected budget deficit, had NMED vigorously enforced the 2005 Consent Order.
All of this is part of a pattern where the Martinez Administration has coddled the nuclear weapons industry even as that industry is cutting cleanup funding and ramping up nuclear weapons production that caused the mess to begin with. Gov. Martinez and ex-NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn have touted what they call an historic $74 million settlement that New Mexico and DOE reached after a radioactive waste barrel that LANL improperly treated ruptured at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), contaminating 21 workers and closing down that multi-billion dollar facility for nearly three years. What was left unsaid is that DOE was already responsible for the supermajority of “Special Environmental Projects” that were agreed to in lieu of penalties and fines that could helped solved New Mexico’s budgets woes, even though state and federal policy on those projects both require that the regulatory agency collect a significant monetary penalty.
Not one penny went to New Mexico, while DOE was “obliged” to, for example, repave roads at WIPP and LANL that it uses to transport the radioactive bomb waste that it produces. To add insult to injury, NMED agreed to waive penalties for all future, unknown violations – no matter the severity or length – as long as there is corrective action of any sort at some undefined time. Also included in this give-away was an obligation by NMED to negotiate modifications to the 2005 Consent Order (now completed to New Mexico’s disadvantage), and to forego penalties that could have been assessed against DOE under it.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “It seems that the Environment Department under Gov. Martinez is in the business of protecting business against environmentalists. The legislature should hold their feet to the fire so that New Mexicans have a real environment department that protects our precious water resources and creates jobs doing so.”
Nuclear Watch NM Amends LANL Cleanup Lawsuit – Claims New Consent Order To Be Invalid
Nuclear Watch New Mexico has amended its federal lawsuit against the Department of Energy (DOE) and Los Alamos National Security, LLC (LANS) that alleges twelve violations of a 2005 Consent Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Those violations could result in potential penalties of more than $300 million dollars that would go to the state, if only the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) were to enforce them.
Nuclear Watch now asks the court to declare the new 2016 Consent Order to be invalid because the requirement for the opportunity of a public hearing was not met.
NMED intervened in the case on June 23, 2016. The next day, NMED and DOE signed the 2016 Consent Order after a 60-day comment period, during which over 40 citizens, nonprofit organizations, public officials, and two Pueblos provided comments. Lack of enforceability and lack of concrete long-term schedules were common major foci of the comments. Despite that, “No change” without any further explanation was NMED’s overwhelming response to specific public comments as the two agencies moved from the draft to final Consent Order.
The finalized new Consent Order surrenders enforceability by creating a giant loophole where DOE and LANL can avoid cleanup by claiming that it is either too expensive or impractical. This is clearly the opposite of what is needed, when nuclear weapons research and production programs that caused the mess to begin with are receiving increased taxpayer funding, while cleanup programs are being cut.
In addition, NMED’s new Consent Order explicitly absolves DOE and LANS of past violations. In response, Nuclear Watch has added to its lawsuit this request for declaratory judgment by the court that DOE and NMED violated the public’s right for the opportunity of a formal hearing, explicitly required by the 2005 Consent Order.
Scott Kovac, NukeWatch Research Director, noted, “We will not let the public’s right for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab be papered over by DOE and NMED. Both agencies agreed to all parts of the 2005 Consent Order, which included rigorous public participation requirements and a detailed the cleanup schedule, including a final compliance date. We will continue to push for the public to have a true voice in these important matters. ”
The New Mexico Environmental Law Center and Attorney John E. Stroud are representing NukeWatch in this legal action to enforce timely cleanup at LANL.
Santa Fe, NM – In a classic move to avoid publicity, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) announced late Friday afternoon June 24 that it had finalized a new “Consent Order” to replace a 2005 Order governing cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). The Environment Department’s brief press release headlined “Agreement Focuses on Cleanup & Supporting Stronger Federal Funding Requests.” This is doublespeak, as the new Consent Order is a giveaway to the Department of Energy and the Lab, surrendering the strong enforceability of the old Consent Order. The new Order is also clearly the opposite of the old Consent Order, whose underlying intent was to make DOE and LANL get more money from Congress for accelerated cleanup. In contrast, the new Consent Order allows them to get out of future cleanup by simply claiming that it’s too expensive or impractical to clean up.
The nuclear weaponeers are now openly talking about the “The Second Nuclear Age” before cleaning up form the first nuclear age. They are actively seeking to expand nuclear weapons production that caused the widespread contamination to begin with, particularly plutonium pit production at LANL.
Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch New Mexico Director, commented, “The nuclear weaponeers plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years completely rebuilding U.S. nuclear forces. Meanwhile, cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab, the birthplace of nuclear weapons, continues to be delayed, delayed, delayed. Real cleanup would be a win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and environment while creating hundreds of high paying jobs. But yet the Environment Department fails New Mexicans by failing to enforce cleanup at Los Alamos.”
When NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn announced a draft new Consent Order on March 30, he claimed that the old Consent Order did not work. Nuclear Watch agrees, but that’s because Secretary Flynn granted more than 150 compliance milestone extensions at the Lab’s request, effectively eviscerating the old Consent Order. While finalizing the new Consent Order NMED ignored the explicit public participation requirements of the old Order, which among other things requires a public hearing on major modifications. Instead, NMED rammed through the final Consent Order, largely brushing aside the formal comments of some 40 concerned citizens and the Santa Clara Pueblo.
LANL is key to the trillion dollar rebuilding of nuclear forces as the premier nuclear weapons design lab and the nation’s sole production site for plutonium pit triggers, the most critical nuclear weapons components. Funding for Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons programs is nearly double historic Cold War averages, with around $1.5 billion spent annually at LANL alone. In contrast, funding for Lab cleanup has been cut to $189 million for FY 2017 (down from $225 million in FY 2014), with only approximately a third going to actual cleanup (one-third goes to pensions and another third to safeguard improperly treated radioactive waste barrels, one of which ruptured and closed the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant).
The original 2005 Consent Order required DOE and LANL to investigate, characterize, and clean up hazardous and mixed radioactive contaminants from 70 years of nuclear weapons research and production. It also stipulated a detailed compliance schedule that the Lab was required to meet. Ironically, the last milestone, due December 6, 2015, required a report from LANL on how it successfully cleaned up Area G, its largest waste dump. However, real cleanup remains decades away, if ever. Instead, the Lab plans to “cap and cover” Area G, thereby creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts, with an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of toxic and radioactive wastes buried above the regional groundwater aquifer, four miles uphill from the Rio Grande.
A few of the serious deficiencies of the new Consent Order are:
[Quotes are from the new Consent Order followed by page numbers]
• “The Parties agree that DOE’s project’s plans and tools will be used to identify proposed milestones and targets.” P. 28. “DOE shall define the use of screening levels and cleanup levels at a site…” P. 32. This puts the Department of Energy in the driver’s seat, not the New Mexico Environment Department.
• “DOE shall update the milestones and targets in Appendix B on an annual basis, accounting for such factors as… changes in anticipated funding levels.” P. 29. Therefore the new Consent Order will be held hostage to DOE’s budget, which recently cut LANL’s cleanup funding.
• “… [DOE and NMED] shall meet to discuss the appropriation and any necessary revision to the forecast, e.g. DOE did not receive adequate appropriations from Congress…” P. 30. Again, the new Consent Order and therefore cleanup at LANL will be held hostage to DOE funding, when DOE’s own track record makes clear that its priority is expanded nuclear weapons production paid for in part by cutting cleanup and nonproliferation programs.
• “If attainment of established cleanup objectives is demonstrated to be technically infeasible, DOE may perform risk-based alternative cleanup objectives…” P. 34. DOE can opt out because of “impracticability” or cost of cleanup. P. 35. This creates giant loopholes that threaten comprehensive cleanup at LANL.
• The new draft Consent Order explicitly states that public participation requirements do NOT apply to future modifications of the Order. P. 25. This is the opposite of what the original Consent Order required, which made a point of incorporating the public process requirements of federal environmental law. Nuclear Watch New Mexico maintains that full public participation requirements apply to the new Consent Order as well, including its very formulation as a major modification of the old Consent Order. That full public participation process requires a public hearing if there are unresolved issues, which NMED has rejected, a position that may be of questionable legality.
On May 12, 2016, Nuclear Watch New Mexico filed a lawsuit against LANL and DOE for failing to meet compliance milestones in the old Consent Order. These violations incur around $300 million dollars in potential penalties, which NMED shows no sign of enforcing. To the contrary, NMED has filed a motion to intervene against Nuclear Watch New Mexico in its lawsuit, raising the question of whose side the Environment Department is on, the environment or the polluter (in this case a for-profit nuclear weapons lab)?
Moreover, when Nuclear Watch NM filed a notice of intent to sue on January 21, NMED Secretary Flynn sought to intimidate our lawyers by declaring “If a suit is filed, and the Environment Department becomes involved, we would insist on collecting any and all labor and legal costs from the (New Mexico Environmental Law Center) to reimburse New Mexico’s taxpayers for the costs resulting from this groundless and frivolous action.”
Far from being a frivolous action, Nuclear Watch and the New Mexico Environmental Law Center seek to compel full and genuine environmental restoration at the Los Alamos Lab, which the new Consent Order blocks by giving the nuclear weaponeers giant loopholes to avoid cleanup.
Our complaint alleged twelve counts of milestone compliance violations where NMED did not grant extensions. At that time we calculated 7,853 total days of noncompliance at $37,500.00 per day, equal to$294,487,500, with the clock still ticking.
NM Environment Department Plans to Unveil Revised Los Alamos Cleanup Agreement
March 30, 2016, 1PM, Sandia Resort
Public Comment Is Invited
Los Alamos Cleanup At the Crossroads
NM Environment Department and officials from Los Alamos National Laboratory plan to roll out a draft of the revised Consent Order, which is the agreement for fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy Cold War waste from nuclear weapons production and research. The last compliance date of the original agreement was December 6, 2015, and although much investigation was completed, much more work is still needed.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico believes
A new schedule is mostly what is needed
Lack of budget cannot be an excuse for lack of cleanup
Particular items to keep – meaningful public comment and a final date
But we suspect big changes and not all for the better protection of Northern NM.
Your voice will be important! Please join us!
Northern New Mexico Citizens’ Advisory Board Meeting
March 30, 2016
1:00 p.m. to 5:15 p.m.
Sandia Resort, Ballroom A
30 Rainbow Road
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87113
Time Action Presenter
1:00 p.m. Call to Order Lee Bishop, DDFO
Welcome and Introductions Doug Sayre, Chair
Approval of Agenda
Approval of Minutes of January 27, 2016
1:20 p.m. Old Business
a. Written Reports – See Packet Enclosures (5 minutes)
b. Other items
1:30 p.m. New Business
1:35 p.m. Update from Deputy Designated Federal Officer(s)
Lee Bishop/Michael Gardipe
1:45 p.m. Presentation on Revisions to Consent Order,
Upon Opening of Public Comment Period
NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn
3:00 p.m. Break
3:20 p.m. Presentation Continues
4:00 p.m. Public Comment Period
4:15 p.m. Update on FY 17/18 EM Budget Genna Hackett
4:45 p.m. Consideration and Action on Draft Recommendation 2016-02, Doug Sayre
“FY 2018 Budget Priorities”
5:00 p.m. Wrap-up Comments from NNMCAB Members
a. Were your questions answered regarding the presentations?
b. Requests for future presentations or information
Through comprehensive research, public education and effective citizen action, Nuclear Watch New Mexico seeks to promote safety and environmental protection at regional nuclear facilities; mission diversification away from nuclear weapons programs; greater accountability and cleanup in the nation-wide nuclear weapons complex; and consistent U.S. leadership toward a world free of nuclear weapons.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has announced that it intends to re-open the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in December 2016. The nation’s only deep geologic repository, located 26 miles east of Carlsbad, has been shut down since February 2014 because of two events – an underground fire and a radiation release.
DOE is in a rush to re-open WIPP even though the facility cannot meet the previous operational and safety standards, let alone more stringent requirements that are necessary to prevent future accidents. The WIPP underground remains contaminated, so operations have to be greatly changed, including workers being dressed in “ebola suits.” Ventilation will not be restored to the pre-2014 levels until 2021 or later – the new system is not designed and how much it will cost is unknown.
The transuranic (plutonium-contaminated) waste from manufacturing nuclear bombs can be in safe storage at the generator sites, so there is no emergency requiring the rush to re-open.
DOE is rushing to re-open WIPP and ALSO wants to expand WIPP to other missions that are prohibited by law, including:
Greater-Than-Class C waste from dozens of commercial power plants;
High-level waste from Hanford, WA;
Commercial waste from West Valley, NY;
Surplus weapons-grade plutonium from the Savannah River Site, SC.
DOE also is proceeding with finding a “volunteer” site for the nation’s high-level defense waste, and some officials in southeastern New Mexico say publicly that WIPP should be that repository!
The 1992 WIPP Land Withdrawal Act explicitly PROHIBITS all high-level waste, all spent nuclear fuel, and all commercial waste. But DOE wants to ignore the law!
Those prohibitions resulted from many New Mexicans demanding them!
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Contact Senators Udall and Heinrich (and other elected officials) and ask them to stop the rush to re-open an unsafe WIPP. Ask them to require DOE to drop the expansion proposals and commit that WIPP will not be considered for high-level waste. Ask them to have Congress reiterate that the WIPP law is not being changed to allow those expansions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Southwest Research and Information Center, www.sric.org, 505-262-1862
531 Hart Senate Office Building 303 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Udall and Senator Heinrich:
I am very concerned about the Department of Energy (DOE) rushing to re-open WIPP this year despite unresolved public and worker safety issues and because of the many proposals to expand WIPP, if it is re-opened.
The WIPP underground remains contaminated, so operations have to be greatly changed, including workers being dressed in “ebola suits.” Ventilation will not be restored to the pre-2014 levels until 2021 or later – the new system is not designed and how much it will cost is unknown.
The transuranic (plutonium-contaminated) waste from manufacturing nuclear bombs can be in safe storage at generator sites, so there’s no emergency requiring the rush to re-open.
DOE recently announced that it wants to expand WIPP for commercial Greater-than-Class C (GTCC) waste from nuclear reactors and for tons of weapons-grade plutonium. DOE also wants to have a defense high-level waste repository and some people want to “volunteer” WIPP!
There is time for my requests to be fulfilled. Please:
* Tell DOE to improve the ventilation and other safety requirements before WIPP re-opens
* Insist that DOE drop the expansion proposals
* Require DOE to affirm that WIPP will not be considered for the defense high-level waste repository
* Obtain additional congressional assurances that the WIPP law is not going to be changed to allow the proposed expansions.
WIPP is a public health and safety issue now and for many generations to come!
Treat All Los Alamos Lab Radioactive Wastes Consistently
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board’s role and responsibility includes gathering information regarding the hazards to the public and workers posed by the management of transuranic (TRU) wastes at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), as well as the Department of Energy’s (DOE) plans to address those hazards. The Board will examine DOE’s actions taken or inadequacies addressed in the current safety policies of the various facilities that manage or store TRU wastes at LANL. The Board is also interested in understanding actions taken to improve TRU waste management at LANL after the improper handling and treatment of TRU wastes that resulted in a ruptured barrel that shut down the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).
New Cleanup Agreement Requires New Schedule and That Is About All
Following protracted negotiations, threatened litigation, and claims of imminent and substantial endangerment, the New Mexican Environment Department (NMED), the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) contractor agreed to sign the original Consent Order in March 2005. Its promise was fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War legacy waste at Los Alamos. The 2005 Consent Order was designed as a plan-to-make-a-plan, with investigations followed by cleanup and with hundreds of specific milestones. The intent was to convince DOE to increase funding for LANL cleanup by making a complete cleanup schedule subject to enforcement. The original CO had a “final compliance date” scheduled for December 6, 2015.
However, in 2012, NMED signed a “Framework Agreement” with DOE that prioritized the transfer of 3,706 cubic meters of aboveground, “transuranic” (TRU) nuclear bomb production wastes from LANL to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico. This put Consent Order cleanup on the back burner. Approximately 150 milestone extensions of the 2005 CO were granted to LANL by NMED. In February 2014, WIPP was shut down by improper packaging at LANL of a drum of this waste. Dealing with the remaining “suspect” drums (packaged at the same time) at LANL is a major priority lately instead of cleanup. This has kept the Consent Order cleanup on the back burner.
Just change the schedule
So NMED and LANL could pick a new final cleanup date, say 2030, and work backwards. Or start by adding 4 or 5 years to the old schedule for some reports and work it out from there. The point is to keep the original 2005 Consent Order language, which is very protective of the health and environment of Northern New Mexico, and just change the schedule dates. However the work is rescheduled, all the work items in the old Compliance Schedule Tables need to be addressed in new Compliance Schedule Tables with new dates given for all the work.
Recent public presentations by NMED implied that cleanup milestones in a revised CO would be assigned annually based on the anticipated budget. This would leave hundreds of cleanup items with no target date for completion and would leave cleanup at the mercy of Congressional budget winds. Any cleanup item not on the list for any given year could be outside the scope of enforcement. LANL could be in the position to not put items on the annual list and to delay cleanup forever.
If the schedule must be rearranged into some sort of “Campaign Mode” in an attempt to make cleanup more “efficient”, completion dates must be kept for every step. Every item in the Campaign must remain enforceable with concrete milestones including a final compliance date. All other items not in a Campaign must remain scheduled.
Lack of budget cannot be an excuse for lack of cleanup
Taking cleanup dollar crumbs and sprinkling them annually over some perceived priority cleanup items is the least efficient way to address the fence-to-fence cleanup of Cold War wastes at Los Alamos. Cleanup of the 70 years worth of contamination will never again be cheaper than it is this year. It is imperative that ambitious schedule be made and that it be kept.
Every day of delay means another day of Cold War radioactive and hazardous wastes leaking into the environment of Northern New Mexico.
Particular items to keep – meaningful public comment and a final date
The final compliance date for the last work item must keep the Class 3 permit modification language. Please see our earlier blog for more information. This will ensure that the public can be heard at the end of the next CO and requires the opportunity for a public hearing.
There must be meaningful public input for the revised CO. NMED must give response to all comments.
A well-planned schedule with concrete milestones and final compliance dates would get the work done faster and cheaper. Course corrections with schedule adjustments will have to be made along the way. This would be expected for such a complex task. Having to adjust the schedule is no reason to throw it out. Any major rewrite of the 2005 Consent Order may only leave the future of NM less protected.
Not keeping up with changes in the 2005 Consent Order schedule is the main reason that the CO needs to be revised today. We currently find ourselves with cleanup of legacy wastes in such disarray that it seems that the only fix is to start over. But there is no reason not to just update the original 2005 schedule. Secretary Flynn has stated that the 2005 Consent Order is still in effect.
Today we could be looking at a known Consent Order with a new schedule. Instead we may end up with NMED and DOE renegotiating some untried document with unknown benefits and an unknown schedule.
Cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory is too important to leave as TBD.
“Flynn said Wednesday, “These are nothing more than baseless claims being peddled by a radical group that insists on wasting everybody’s time with empty threats and manufactured disputes, which helps them grab headlines and juices their fundraising efforts.””
The main point in Nuclear Watch New Mexico’s Notice of Intent to sue is based on the calendar. In particular, the mandatory final compliance report that was to be submitted under the 2005 Consent Order Compliance Schedule was to be submitted by December 6, 2015.
The report was not submitted by December 6, 2015.
It is now January 25, 2016, which is after December 6, 2015.
The final report is late – see calendar.
The federal law that was incorporated into the 2005 Consent Order, and the Consent Order itself, specify certain actions that must be taken when a deliverable does not meet its due date. For instance, DOE/LANL must request an extension. In the case of extending this final scheduled compliance deadline, there are “Class 3” permit modification requirements, like the opportunity for a public hearing, that are required.
Interestingly, because NukeWatch believes that the ball is DOE/LANL’s court to request an extension of time for the December 6, 2015 report, NMED is not named in our notice of intent to sue.
There are a couple of minor inaccuracies in this story, for instance – “which blazed through waste dump site “Area R.” Nor sure what this refers to.
And – “ the lab has missed several milestones, including a June 2014 deadline to remove above-ground radioactive waste — delayed due to last February’s leak at WIPP.” Technically, removing the TRU is not part of the Consent Order.
LANL misses cleanup deadline set in 2005 for largest waste site
Posted: Monday, December 7, 2015 6:45 pm | Updated: 10:41 pm, Mon Dec 7, 2015.
By Rebecca Moss
The New Mexican
A significant deadline to remove all major waste from a key Los Alamos National Laboratory site by Dec. 6 went unmet this weekend.
The deadline Sunday was set in 2005 as part of an agreement between the lab, the state Environment Department and the U.S. Department of Energy. However, officials have said the initial guidelines for cleaning up waste from decades of nuclear weapons production are no longer realistic within the time frame, following the burst of a LANL drum at a waste repository in Southern New Mexico in 2014. That caused a radiation leak that shut down a significant portion of the repository.
The shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad has pushed back the completion of the cleanup project — estimated to cost more than $1 billion.
A revised cleanup agreement is anticipated for 2016, although a release date has not been scheduled.
Allison Majure, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Environment Department, said despite delays, the intent of the consent order for the LANL cleanup has not changed. “Just because the milestone passed does not mean the consent order is not in effect,” she said Monday.
She said public opinion has been solicited on the revised order.
Representatives for Los Alamos National Laboratory said they were unable to provide comment on the status of the order Monday.
Sunday’s deadline focused on “Area G,” LANL’s largest waste deposit site. A local watchdog group, Nuclear Watch New Mexico, said comprehensive cleanup for the site “is still decades away.”
In a statement released Monday, Nuclear Watch stressed the need for public participation in the revised cleanup order, including a public hearing, and condemned a plan proposed by LANL to “cap and cover” waste in Area G.
“Cleanup just keeps being delayed. If not corrected, cleanup simply won’t happen,” said Jay Coghlan, executive director of Nuclear Watch.
“Nobody ever thought cleanup would be fully completed by the end of 2015; nobody is under any illusions about that,” he added.
The 2005 consent order came in response to a lawsuit between the Energy Department and the state Environment Department following several events that triggered federal pressure, including the Cerro Grande Fire in Los Alamos in 2000, which blazed through waste dump site “Area R.” Officials at the time feared the fire could spark an explosion.
Since the consent order was issued, however, the lab has missed several milestones, including a June 2014 deadline to remove above-ground radioactive waste — delayed due to last February’s leak at WIPP.
During a meeting in November, state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn said remaining cleanup costs under the 2005 order have been estimated at $1.2 billion by the federal government, but that these projections are too low; he said additional funds would be needed to meet cleanup targets, as well as the reappraisal of “unrealistic” milestones.
Deadline for Last Cleanup Milestone of LANL Consent Order Passes
NukeWatch Calls for Public Seats at the Table in Negotiations
Santa Fe, NM – Yesterday, December 6,was the deadline for the last compliance milestone in the Consent Order between the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and the Department of Energy (DOE) that governs cleanup at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Ironically, that last milestone required the submittal of a report by the Lab on how it successfully completed cleanup of Area G, its largest waste dump. Real comprehensive cleanup is decades away at current funding levels. One of the purposes of the 2005 Consent Order was to prod Congress to increase funding for cleanup of 70 years of neglected Cold War contamination at the Lab.
NMED has the final decision on what form cleanup of hazardous wastes takes at LANL. But any revised Consent Order is still off in the future, and the degree of public participation in its formulation yet to be determined by NMED. Meanwhile, LANL plans to “cap and cover” Area G, thereby creating a permanent nuclear waste dump in unlined pits and shafts, with an estimated 200,000 cubic yards of toxic and radioactive wastes buried above the regional groundwater aquifer, 4 miles uphill from the Rio Grande.
Following protracted negotiations and threatened litigation by DOE against NMED, the Environment Department succeeded in getting DOE and the LANL contractor to sign the original Consent Order in March 2005. However, beginning in 2012, NMED signed a “Framework Agreement” with DOE that prioritized the transfer of 3,706 cubic meters of aboveground, monitored “transuranic” (TRU) wastes from nuclear bomb production at Area G to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in southern New Mexico.
The stated rationale of this so-called 3706 Campaign was to minimize the risk from wildfire following the 2010 Las Conchas Fire that burned within 3.5 miles of Area G. However, if those TRU wastes were really at risk from wildfire, they would have burned during the 2000 Cerro Grande Fire that came within a half-mile of Area G. The Framework Agreement allowed LANL to discontinue most legacy cleanup to concentrate on TRU shipments that should have already been completed.
Moreover, the 3706 Campaign itself ended in disaster in February 2014 when an improperly treated radioactive waste drum from LANL ruptured at WIPP, contaminating 21 workers and indefinitely closing down that multi-billion dollar facility. Dealing with the 59 similarly treated “suspect” drums still at LANL will use a substantial amount of scarce cleanup funding for at least the next two years. Combined with the need to address a large chromium groundwater plume discovered after the original Consent Order went into effect, cleanup of buried mixed radioactive wastes will remain on the back burner, if ever addressed.
Further, since 2011 LANL has requested and NMED perfunctorily granted more than 150 milestone extensions, thus effectively eviscerating the Consent Order without public comment and consent. Which brings us to today, after the last compliance milestone deadline has expired, with little cleanup actually accomplished since 2012.A new schedule of cleanup is on hold until a revised Consent Order is negotiated.
Previously NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has said that a draft revised Consent Order would be released for a 60-day public comment period before the end of 2015. But as of mid-November negotiations had not started. More recently Secretary Flynn has said that a draft renewed Consent Order would be released only after the schedule of payments is finalized for a $73 million settlement over WIPP violations. WhileNuclear Watch New Mexico appreciates NMED’s firmness on the WIPP settlements, we would like to see the same amount of zeal applied to enforcing cleanup at LANL through the Consent Order.
NukeWatch strongly believes that much more vigorous public participation steps, including the opportunity for a public hearing, are legally required by the existing Consent Order. Specifically, the March 2005 Consent Order incorporated the full public participation requirements applicable to hazardous waste permits. Federal environmental regulations, which are incorporated into New Mexico state regulations, establish the public participation procedures for various types of permit modifications, including extending final compliance dates. These are deeper levels of public participation than the 60-day public comment period that NMED is currently contemplating. In our view, a 60-day public comment period on a draft Consent Order is tantamount to commenting on a done deal already negotiated between DOE and NMED.
Scott Kovac, Research and Operations Director for Nuclear Watch New Mexico, stated, “The requirements are clear for deep and meaningful public participation in LANL cleanup decisions, including the opportunity for the interested public to have a seat at the negotiating table and the possibility for a public hearing. NMED must make Cold War legacy cleanup a priority at LANL and should start by prioritizing full public participation while negotiating the revised Consent Order.”
Jay Coghlan, NukeWatch Executive Director, added, “Ultimately this is all about the future of cleanup at LANL, which is receiving less federal funding while the nuclear weapons programs that created the mess to begin with are getting more money. We want nothing short of comprehensive cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab. That would be a real win-win for New Mexicans, permanently protecting our water and the environment while creating hundreds of high-paying jobs.
Important Public Meeting On the Future of Cleanup At Los Alamos – Join Us on November 12
The future of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of radioactive and hazardous wastes is being evaluated now. Will Northern New Mexico be turned into a permanent nuclear waste dump?
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) have been revising the 2005 Consent Order (CO), which is the agreement between the State and the Feds for fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy Cold War wastes. The work in the CO, was supposed to be completed by December 2015. It was designed as a plan-to-make-a-plan with investigations of contaminated sites followed by cleanup decisions and remediation. Milestones and penalties were included to keep funding and cleanup on track.
What have LANL and NMED come up with to replace the 2005 Consent Order? Looks like we’ll have to wait until Thursday November 12th to find out. NMED and LANL have announced a public meeting to explain their ideas for the revised CO. There is an opportunity for public comments at the special meeting and we need you there. But it is unclear what NMED will do with any comments made. The public has been left out so far. Nuclear Watch New Mexico is pressing for meaningful responses to all comments and for actual inclusion of the public’s wishes into the revised CO.
In particular NukeWatch will be pushing for concrete milestones that are set from the beginning for all actions, for penalties when deadlines are not met, and for a new final end date. The revised Consent Order cannot be open-ended.
Northern New Mexico has been waiting long enough for cleanup at Los Alamos. Much of the waste buried in unlined dumps perched above our aquifer has been slowly releasing into the ground and heading towards our aquifer since the 1950s and 1960s. The Cold War ended in the early 1990s. Enough is enough.
NukeWatch Pushes Environment Department for More Public Input in Los Alamos Cleanup
An in-depth article, Consent order facing changes, by Mark Oswald in the Albuquerque Journal (October 9, 2015) lays out how legacy waste cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is being negotiated between DOE and the NM Environment Department (NMED) without the fully required public participation. The 2005 Consent Order (CO), which addresses the fence-to-fence cleanup of hundreds of thousands of cubic meters of Cold War legacy radioactive and hazardous waste in the ground at the Lab, was due to reach it’s final milestone this December. For many reasons, including the closure of WIPP due to improper radioactive waste drum packing practices at LANL, the December 2015 deadline will not be meet.
Please don’t think that, just because deadlines were not reached that it was a failure. Much progress on cleanup at LANL was made under the 2005 Consent Order. About 2,100 cleanup sites were originally identified, ranging from small spills to large landfills. Cleanup of about half of the sites has been completed. Initial investigation of about 90 percent of the remaining sites has been completed. Many cleanup alternatives were also investigated at the remaining sites and options have been presented. A groundwater monitoring well infrastructure was installed, with more monitoring wells on the way.
In Oswald’s article, NMED’s Kathryn Roberts stated that, “The 2005 deal was focused on investigative work and characterization of LANL’s legacy waste.” We at NukeWatch, feel that the goal of the 2005 Consent Order was always the cleanup of LANL and that the investigations and characterization of the many waste sites were just the first steps. There are milestones in the CO, with dates, for the actual cleanup of all the legacy waste sites at Los Alamos. The lab’s final “milestone” from the 2005 Consent Order was supposed to be a “remedy completion report,” due on Dec. 6, on how Area G, the Lab’s largest waste site, had been cleaned up.
NMED and DOE/LANL are negotiating the new CO now and have publically stated plans to rollout the draft for the new CO this November for a 60-day public comment period. Nuclear Watch NM believes that these negotiations must have public input.
This gets us to one of our main reasons why we feel the need for more public input. We are concerned that the new CO will not have enforceable milestones for all cleanup projects from the beginning. Deciding every 1 to 3 years which sites will be addressed for a cleanup ‘campaign’ and then what that schedule should be will insure that Los Alamos never addresses all the sites. This would revert cleanup back to the way it was done before the 2005 Consent Order with budget driving cleanup. But the purpose of the CO is to have cleanup drive the budget. A schedule for all cleanups must be set from the beginning and the Lab must be held accountable every step along the way by getting the money and doing the work on time.
We will insist on a new final compliance date for the last milestone of the last legacy cleanup project. Cleanup at Los Alamos cannot be open-ended.
NukeWatch’s September 21 letter to NMED that explains our position that a “Class 3 Permit Modification” is required is here.
NM Environment Department Starts Clock on Four Legacy Waste Penalties at LANL
The New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) has sent notices to Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) that the State intends to assess penalties for four environmental reports that have missed required deadlines. Each report could be subject to penalties of $1000 per day for the first 30 days late and $3000 per day thereafter starting at the date of the notice. These four assessments for FY2015 reports under the Consent Order (CO) showed up on the Los Alamos Electronic Public Reading Room (EPRR) daily notifications.
These four are the first Stipulated Penalties since 2009 that have assessed by NMED under the 2005 Consent Order. In January 2012, the State and DOE/LANL agreed to a “Framework Agreement”, which focused on shipping transuranic (TRU) waste from LANL to WIPP, and put the CO on the back burner. We believe that there were no Stipulated Penalties Lists at all for FY13 and FY14. NMED granted approximately 100 extensions to CO deliverables during this time, which were not subject to penalties.
Before the beginning of each DOE fiscal year (October 1st) NMED and DOE/LANS work out which 15 deliverables to the CO will have potential penalties attached during the upcoming fiscal year. These deliverables are documents or reports that cover activities required under the 2005 Consent Order, which lays out the fence-to-fence cleanup of legacy waste on the Lab’s 36 square miles. For instance, after a mandatory monitoring well is drilled, a Well Completion Report would be required. Each year there may be 40 to 50 or so deliverables required by the State, of which only 15 are chosen to be subject to penalties for being late or deficient.
TRU waste shipments stopped in February 2014 when a TRU waste drum (improperly packaged at LANL) overheated and released radiation in the underground at WIPP. The radiation reached the surface of WIPP and contaminated 21 workers. This TRU waste at LANL is not actually covered under the Consent Order, but much of the aboveground TRU (originally scheduled to be shipped before 2012) is physically in the way of CO cleanup at the Lab.
These CO Stipulated Penalties may seem small compared the potential $100 million fines, but the Consent Order itself is the primary driver for cleanup at the Lab. There are millions of cubic meters of hazardous and radioactive wastes and contaminated backfill buried at LANL. These wastes will pose a permanent threat to our aquifer unless removed.
“The Consent Order was designed to keep pressure on cleanup of legacy waste at Los Alamos. Penalties for missed deadlines are aimed at forcing DOE headquarters in DC to provide sufficient funding. We are pleased that NMED is focusing on the Consent Order again and not backing away from assessing penalties. We have a long way to go and we must all remain vigilant as the Lab addresses each of the many cleanup sites at Los Alamos.” ~ Scott Kovac, Operations and Research Director, Nuclear Watch New Mexico
Los Alamos Cleanup Budget Request Slips to 8% for FY 2016
Even as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) faces more fines from the State for missed environmental cleanup, the cleanup budget request slips to 8% of the Lab’s total budget of $2.2 billion. The request for cleanup for Fiscal Year 2016 is $185.2 million. See the full chart and Lab tables here.
Even this ridiculously small amount is under attack. The ABQ Journal reported that the Department of Energy could be planning to pay for existing LANL fines out of this cleanup budget. In December 2014 the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) issued fines totalling $37 million for improper waste handling that closed the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in SE NM.
But really, the breeched drum that closed WIPP (full operations will not resume until 2018 at the earliest) came from the nuclear weapons activities programs. It’s like the weapons program handed the environmental cleanup program a ticking time bomb and said, “You deal with it.” Then when it blows up, it gets blamed on the environment folks. Reckless historic environmental practices by the nuclear weapons programs at the Lab have left a legacy of radioactive and hazardous wastes in the ground above our aquifer.
The official estimate for the total cleanup at Los Alamos has yet to be released. But it could easily $15 – 20 billion to remove the contamination threatening our future. Doing the math, a $15 billion cleanup estimate at $200 million per year would take 75 years. That is too long.
Ask your Congressional Representatives to fully fund cleanup at Los Alamos National Laboratory and to NOT use cleanup funds to pay any fines!
On December 6, the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) declared multiple violations at both the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) and Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). NMED plans to fine WIPP $17.7 million and LANL $36.6 million due to major procedural problems related to the handling of radioactive transuranic (TRU) wastes that contributed to two significant incidents at WIPP earlier this year.
In addition to “failure to adequately characterize waste” and other violations, LANL was cited for the processing of nitrate-bearing wastes and adding neutralizing agents to that waste stream. LANL treated this procedure as if it was outside the state hazardous waste permit, but NMED determined that these operations were not exempt. LANL treated 100s of waste drums without a permit, and one of these was apparently the cause of the February 14, 2014 radioactive release at WIPP that contaminated 21 workers.
WIPP was cited for, among other violations, not notifying NMED in a timely fashion of the February 14 radioactive release.
The $36.6 million fine at LANL is based on up to $10,000 per day per non-compliance, but still represents less than 2% of the Lab’s $2.1 billion annual budget. The contractor that runs the Lab, Los Alamos National Security, LLC, is eligible to earn $57 million in bonus award fees for the fiscal year that ended last September 30th. The fines should be taken out of the bonuses.
NMED stipulated that the penalties couldn’t be paid for out of designated funding for environmental cleanup or operational needs at LANL and WIPP.
Nuclear Watch New Mexico applauds these efforts to hold the Department of Energy accountable in New Mexico and we urge NMED to not negotiate these relatively modest fines down, as is typically the case. These fines should be paid out of the contractor’s profits. The Lab had this waste for over 20 years and still could not get it right. We hope these NMED fines are a wake up call for safe, comprehensive cleanup of all the wastes left from the Cold War at the Los Alamos Lab.”
126.96.36.199. Ignitable, Corrosive, and Reactive Wastes
Wastes exhibiting the characteristic of ignitability, corrosivity, or reactivity (EPA Hazardous Waste Numbers of D001, D002, or D003) are not acceptable at WIPP.
DOE stated that it had “reason to believe that the nitrate salt bearing waste in the containers described above is an oxidizer and therefore the D001 code should be applied to the respective containers”, but did not explain exactly what that reason was. What did LANL or the Accident Investigation Board (AIB) discover that lead them to apply the D001 classification? The AIB report investigating the Feb. 14 release is not due until September.
Now there are 368 illegal drums buried at WIPP. DOE can’t seal up Panel 6 until the exact cause of the Feb 14 release is known, even though there is a plan to expedite closure of Panel 6. NMED Secretary Ryan Flynn has stated on several occasions that that we must know the exact cause before sealing up Panel 6. We agree. Otherwise we might be burying drums that should be retrieved and repackaged, as onerous of a task that that would be.
DOE stated, “Because the investigations are ongoing, the application of the D001 is considered provisional and may change to include and/or remove containers/waste streams in the future.” But the WIPP permit has no provision for allowance for “provisional” classification wastes.
After a Failed Campaign, the State Must Return to Enforceable Cleanup At LANL
The June 30 deadline of the “3706 Campaign” to remove 3706 cubic meters of transuranic waste stored on the surface on Los Alamos Lab will be missed due to the radiation release and shutdown of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The campaign was part of a non-binding agreement with the NM Environment Department so there are no penalties associated with lack of performance. The problem is that much other cleanup at the Lab was delayed while the 3706 Campaign was prioritized.
The Lab missed the low bar of shipping 3,706 cubic meters of transuranic waste while the cleanup of over 1,000,000 cubic meters of all types of radioactive waste, hazardous waste, and contaminated backfill buried across the Lab were put on the back burner. These vast amounts of buried wastes, dating back to the Lab’s early days, are covered under a 2005 Consent Order for the “fence-to-fence” cleanup of legacy waste. The Consent Order is enforceable with stipulated penalties of up to $3000/day for missed deliverables. But NMED has been hesitant to impose fines, because of DOE claims that the fines come out of the cleanup budget. The deadline for the last cleanup under the Consent Order is currently December 2015, which everyone agrees is impossible. But that end date could be extended, and should be extended, especially if the Lab was actually working on the legacy cleanup
NMED, to date, has granted over 95 extensions for Consent Order deliverables in favor of the 3706 Campaign. These extensions allow the Lab to not drill monitoring wells and to not perform cleanup investigations and work plans for sites across the Lab. The Lab claims that there is not enough money to address all the Consent Order deliverables, but the idea behind the Consent Order was that fines and the threat of fines would shake cleanup funding from DOE headquarters in DC. Cleanup without the big stick of possible fines just takes us back to the time when the small budget received annually just gets sprinkled around to where the cleanup “priorities” are perceived to be. Urgency and comprehensiveness go out the window.
The Cold War has been over for twenty years now and we in Northern New Mexico have been patient in removing LANL’s legacy waste.
But now Northern New Mexico has neither a 3706 Campaign that is complete, nor a Consent Order that will be complete by its deadline. NMED officials have stated, upon the successful completion of the 3706 Campaign, that they would consider renegotiating the Consent Order. We are waiting to see how NMED deals with the 3706 failure and we urge NMED to make the Consent Order the priority again. The Campaign approach has now been proven not to work.
In the meantime, we also have contaminated WIPP workers.
We have 707 possibly explosive drums probably created by Los Alamos spread across New Mexico and West Texas.
We have a damaged WIPP, which is shut down for up to three years and missing its deadlines for disposing waste.
We have other impacted DOE sites across the country, which will be missing deadlines for radioactive waste disposal.
We the taxpayers are no doubt going to spend hundreds of millions on this fiasco while the contractors continue to put money in their pockets.
The New Mexico Environment Department is the regulator here. Relying on LANL’s promises and plans to make things better must end. Time to return to the 2005 Consent Order and actually use the enforceable provisions in it.
On the recent radiation leak: “From my perspective on the (U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources) committee, the first priority is making sure that the personnel who actually work at WIPP are safe and that the community and environment around WIPP is safe.”
On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “WIPP was never designed as a high level facility, and I don’t think we should retrofit it to be a high level facility. There has been talk of moving other transuranic waste there that was generated in different ways than the transuranic waste that’s coming from Los Alamos, for example. That’s something we can have the conversation about, but it should never be a high level facility.”
On any future change in WIPP’s mission: “We have a very long standing and robust conversation in my office with the community in Carlsbad all the time. The input from the community is always critical.” “There is nothing more important than making sure that that community feels like we are doing everything possible to make sure that WIPP is a success, and that the people who work there in the surrounding community and their well-being is our first priority.”
“It’s too early to say whether the leak factors into my thoughts about the future of WIPP because we don’t know what happened. I’m taking the leak very seriously, and our focus right now is on the immediate safety of the community and WIPP personnel and the recovery work. It would be premature to draw any conclusions. This is a very technical issue, and the science is extremely important. My position on expansion now is the same as it has always been. When it comes to proposals that would significantly change WIPP’s mission, I support the provision in the current law that bans high-level waste at WIPP. WIPP was not fully studied for high-level waste, and it does not meet permit requirements for high-level waste. Additionally, New Mexico’s people and state government are the ones who have the power to decide what waste our state will accept and under what terms. Any attempt to alter WIPP’s mission would take many years of study, permitting, and require the state of New Mexico’s full support.”
On the radiation leak: “Congressman Pearce has introduced legislation to protect New Mexico jobs at WIPP, which has safely disposed of TRU waste for over a decade. Right now, Congressman Pearce is focused on monitoring the present situation closely, ensuring DOE and WIPP continue to make public safety the top priority. To date, all information shared with our office indicates there is no risk or danger to the community. At the appropriate time, the Congressman fully expects and will insist that the Department of Energy conduct a thorough investigation and answer all the public’s questions.”
On whether high-level waste should be stored at WIPP: “Now is not the time to speculate about proposals that are not even on the table. Taking high level waste at WIPP is not on the table. Congressman Pearce’s number one priority right now is public safety, and there are many questions that need to be answered before any changes in WIPP’s mission are discussed.”
“Right now, the number one priority is the health and safety of the WIPP employees who were affected by the leak as well as the residents of the surrounding community. As the response effort continues, there must be nothing short of full transparency and accountability to ensure the public that they are safe. This incident further proves that any expansion of WIPP’s mission warrants close scrutiny that’s rooted in science and that includes extensive outreach to and input from all stakeholders and local communities.”
“I am very concerned about the recent detection of radiation near WIPP and the health and safety of those exposed to radiation. It will be important that answers are provided detailing the causes of the elevated levels and how this will be prevented in the future. The safety and security of the community must be the top priority.
As far as the larger discussion about changes at WIPP, one aspect that cannot be forgotten or overlooked – especially given the recent incident – is the reality of exposure and what will happen when workers or members of the community are exposed to harmful levels of radiation. Sadly in New Mexico, we are all too familiar with the story of those who worked in uranium mines and other government facilities and suffered exposure to radiation. They contributed to our national security, yet paid a steep cost as many individuals became sick and some paid with their life. I am still fighting in Congress to see that many of these workers are compensated for the health problems they developed as a result of their work. While we hope we never have to face a similar situation in the future, it is important we have these discussions now rather than when it’s too late, especially given the recent reports that 13 workers tested positive for radiation exposure.”
The article in today’s Santa Fe New Mexican(11/13/13) criticizing the proposed City of Santa Fe resolution is long on rhetoric and short on solutions. I appreciate that it may be a slow news day, but this article belongs in the Opinion Section, in my humble opinion…
The resolution calls on Los Alamos Lab to complete a thorough clean up of its wastes left over from the Cold War. How can that be a bad thing? The resolution is just one of Mayor Coss’ efforts to address the economic and environmental issues facing Santa Fe. It works in conjunction with economic development because the waste must be dealt with and it will provide jobs into the future. The Mayor’s efforts for increasing spending at the Lab have been focused on obtaining much-needed cleanup dollars, not expanding the nuclear weapons production budgets.
The article claims that “other non-lethal waste that has been used since the mid 1940s has been buried and capped on LANL property.” It sounds like there is no problem. The term ‘non-lethal’ is misleading, and not really a term used to describe the millions of cubic meters of radiological and hazardous wastes in the ground around Los Alamos. Granted, much of the low-level radioactive wastes and solvents are in less dangerous concentrations, but there are buried radioactive wastes that will have to be remotely handled by robots when they are removed.
The resolution uses an example of the recent cleanup of Materials Disposal Area B that was accomplished using Stimulus Dollars. MDA B at LANL was excavated, characterized and the wastes were shipped to different sites. During cleanup at the Fernald site in Ohio, higher-level wastes were shipped off-site and the low-level waste was replaced on-site in modern landfills with monitoring wells. The resolution shares elements of these real-life completed cleanups. It is easy to criticize while not having one’s own plan. The criticism seems to imply that no action is needed.
Not every resolution can address every issue at LANL. But a resolution that proposes a better cleanup plan that will protect our drinking water and land, protect New Mexicans, and provide jobs is neither “hypocritical” nor “propaganda.”
I invite alternative clean up proposals to be put on the table for discussion.